Eastern Chad: Civilians Continue to be Victims of Violence
December 18, 2006
Abdhurahmene was wounded in his village of Angussa, which was attacked by armed men during the first week of December. Photo © MSF
One Saturday morning, Ibrahim arrives at the MSF hospital at Dogdoré, just over thirty kilometers from the Sudanese border, with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The medical team give him the necessary treatment, dressing the wound and putting his arm in a sling, and Ibrahim explains that he has come from the village of Angoussa, which was attacked by armed men the previous day. He is worried, not about himself, but about his brother, who is seriously wounded and could not make it as far as Dogdoré. Here, journeys are made on foot or by donkey. Apart from some trucks, the only motor vehicles in the region are those used by the army and the various militias, and those belonging to MSF.
Dr. Claudine Maari, the MSF field coordinator, decides to go and look for Ibrahim's brother and evacuate him to the hospital. Nicolas, the logistician, organizes and leads the convoy. With him are François and Gertrude, both nurses, Ahmat, one of the invaluable Chadian interpreters working for the mission, Ibrahim, plus a "first aid kit" containing the medical materials needed to give initial treatment, and a stretcher.
|"Yesterday afternoon, at about 4 o'clock, they came in two groups, riding horses and camels. They surrounded the village, gathered together our 100 goats, four oxen and a horse, and made off eastwards with them. Abdhurahmene and Ibrahim were wounded as they tried to pursue the attackers with their assegais [a short spear or lance]. Assegais— against guns... How can we defend ourselves? It's not safe here any more."
– Villager from Angoussa, Chad
Finally, after a long journey through the forest, past kapok and tamarind trees and fields of millet, the MSF team reaches Angoussa, a village of a hundred or so straw huts. In one of them, half-unconscious, lays Abdhurahmene, Ibrahim's brother. He has been seriously injured by a bullet which has shattered his right femur, and he has lost a lot of blood. François and Gertrude immediately insert a drip, clean the wound and replace the rags used as a bandage with a proper dressing. Outside the hut, some of the men from the village who witnessed the attack give their account of it: "Yesterday afternoon, at about 4 o'clock, they came in two groups, riding horses and camels. They surrounded the village, gathered together our 100 goats, four oxen and a horse, and made off eastwards with them. Abdhurahmene and Ibrahim were wounded as they tried to pursue the attackers with their assegais
— against guns... How can we defend ourselves? It's not safe here any more."
Abdhurahmene is evacuated to MSF's hospital in Dogdoré. Photo © MSF
They all agree that once the millet and groundnut harvests, currently in full swing, are over, they will leave for Dogdoré, joining the thousands who have already fled the violence. Since the end of 2005, this village of 3,000 inhabitants has seen another 15,000 people set up makeshift shelters on its outskirts. The number rises to 50,000 if one includes the whole of the Dar Sila region, which borders Sudan's Darfur region, from Abéché to the border with the Central African Republic. Since the end of 2005, the displaced persons of Dogdoré have been fleeing from armed men conducting what amount to organized raids, whose nature, scale, and seriousness vary. The raiders are mainly members of the Dadjo, the majority ethnic group in the region who are mostly sedentary farmers and have certain representatives who have formed an alliance with Chad's president, Idriss Deby.
Some attacks result "only" in the theft of livestock, others in massacres and the burning of entire villages. Whoever they are, to their victims the attackers are all "Janjaweed," literally, "robbers on horseback." They come from nomad encampments in the surrounding area, or from neighboring Darfur, and are accused of aiding the rebels who are fighting the Chadian government. In fact the attackers are sometimes robbers, sometimes rebels, sometimes militiamen. All of them act with complete impunity in a complex situation where several sources of tension feed one another. There are disputes between nomads and sedentary populations over access to agricultural resources and water, which, in the absence of any public authority, degenerate into open conflict; banditry, which flourishes in the void left by the state; ethnic separatism and politicians who deliberately exacerbate ethnic tensions in order to increase their influence with this or that group; the presence of armed rebels in Darfur and Chad, each group using the other's territory as a rear base and forming opportunistic alliances with particular ethnic groups; and much more.
The first emergency care is given on the spot by Gertrude and François, two MSF nurses. Photo © MSF
The climate of fear worsened recently when the soldiers of the regular army and their families departed from the nearest garrison town. Self-defense militias appear to be taking over to "protect" the population. Many now fear that the situation will deteriorate and it will be impossible for the different ethnic groups to live together peacefully. The men of Angoussa also say that people from several other villages in the surrounding area are preparing to leave for Dogdoré.
Meanwhile, Abdhurahmene is taken by car to the MSF base, where he is treated by the medical staff there. After having a blood transfusion, he pulled through and is now safe, waiting to be transferred to the hospital at Goz Beida for surgery, but David, the doctor, doubts that his leg can be saved.